1 Lead! Now! It Feels like a Gathering of the Clans. the Solos, the Biomedical, the Advertising and Marketing, the News, the Social Science, and the Insurance Employee Benefits Librarians, along with Other Specialized Colleagues, Converge Annually

By Shamel, Cindy | Searcher, October 2008 | Go to article overview

1 Lead! Now! It Feels like a Gathering of the Clans. the Solos, the Biomedical, the Advertising and Marketing, the News, the Social Science, and the Insurance Employee Benefits Librarians, along with Other Specialized Colleagues, Converge Annually


Shamel, Cindy, Searcher


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This year we gathered in Seattle and the atmosphere was upbeat. Just over 5,000 participants (about 3,300 of those non-exhibitor registrants) came from six continents, representing every single SLA chapter around the globe. Sessions covered a very wide range of subjects, from "The Science of Coffee" to "Using Controlled Vocabularies to Enhance Access to Cultural Information." For this gathering of the info pro clans, however, the attention to vision and leadership stood out. While librarians have not totally shed the "oh poor me" mind-set, a look at some of the sessions and association initiatives points to a prosperous direction for the specialized information professional.

Leadership and Vision: Making the Case

Choosing which sessions to attend at a conference as large as SLA can develop into a full-fledged data management task involving spreadsheets, primary research, qualitative analysis, and process of elimination. Having recently joined the Leadership and Management Division of SLA and taken a leadership position in my local SLA chapter, I decided to attend some sessions on leadership and influence. While at least one session communicated a traditional view of information services, a number of programs presented an alternative and inspiring view of the field. The program planners and speakers did a good job providing a vision of leadership and the strategies and tactics involved. Real-life case studies showed their advice in action.

Seth Godin, almost always referred to as best-selling author, entrepreneur, and agent of change, delivered the closing keynote address in Seattle. Had it been delivered as the opening keynote, his message would have alerted attendees to one of the primary conference themes: Use marketing and story-telling techniques to influence employers' perceptions of who info pros are and what we do. Godin provided a key conference sound bite: "Yelling and hoping to make enough money doesn't work. People will not be forced."

Godin's message focuses primarily on marketing, as one might expect from the author of Permission Marketing, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business by Being Remarkable, and Meatball Sundae: Is Your Marketing Out of Sync?. He even has his own Marketing Guru action figure. He advises info pros to "be remarkable." Develop a service or product that your customers will need, want, and love. Tell the story to the few who will spread the word and let them become your sales force. Get permission from those who express an interest in your products and services to provide them with more information. Once again, be remarkable. And thus the cycle continues. This message puts the info pro in control, moving individuals from followers to empowered leaders.

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Conversely, another session I attended seemed to continue the traditional hand-wringing, what's-a-librarian-to-do mind-set. A panel of vendors and librarians discussed content buying. Paraphrasing the panelists, the conversation went along these lines:

Vendor: We want to help you balance where your users think the information is [Google] against where we know it is [our product].

Librarian: The corporate world is experiencing a lot of scrutiny in information expenditures. There is the sense that we can't afford content and Google is good enough.

Vendor: The solution is to bring in the right content organized in the right way with the right tools.

Librarian: We put up an intranet and users didn't come.

Vendor: Training is the answer. More was spent last year on corporate learning than in academia.

Librarian: Users don't want training. They want Google.

Vendor: Digitization will influence the flow of information. Distribution models are changing.

Librarian: Vendors should offer more flexibility in pricing and in contract negotiations.

Attendees came away from this session feeling that vendors and librarians are not listening to each other. …

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